What keeps AirRoad ahead of expectations

By: Ruza Zivkusic-Aftasi

AirRoad1 (L-R) Dzenard Gorovic and Malcolm Thorpe AirRoad1
AirRoad2 Twin deck trailers accommodate bulky and fragile items. AirRoad2
AirRoad3 The company’s smartphones are powered by the latest Android system, helping improve operational efficiency. AirRoad3
AirRoad4 Thorpe joined the company in 1991. AirRoad4
AirRoad5 AirRoad’s twin-deck tailers are 4.6 metres high where cartons are segregated from pallets on interstate travel. AirRoad5

The company takes a proactive approach with latest technology and systems


One of the first to introduce barcode scanning to track clients’ freight, transportation and supply chain management specialists AirRoad is large enough to meet complex logistics and transportation needs but small enough to provide a personalised service.

Established in 1989, AirRoad has grown steadily thanks to its focus on customers.

While it doesn’t have thousands of clients on its books, the privately Australian-owned company prefers it that way and has no plans to become everything to everyone.

With cutting-edge technology and systems to its name, AirRoad takes a proactive approach in installing sustainable technologies and improving fuel efficiency by designing its own trailers.

Its Vawdrey linehaul trailers have been custom-designed with twin decks to accommodate bulky and fragile items, with the aim of delivering goods in pristine condition.

That approach has helped AirRoad keep costs down and reduce carbon footprint, managing director Malcolm Thorpe says.

Seventeen of the 30 vehicles have trailers featuring adjustable mezzanine floors and air-ride suspension fitted across the entire interstate fleet that prevent freight compaction.

Thorpe claims that AirRoad was an early adopter of this suspension technology, hence the name AirRoad.

His team is currently trialling trailers with three-level mezzanine floors, although they are not custom built like the company’s twin-deck pantechnicon trailers, he adds.

The twin-deck tailers are 4.6 metres high where cartons are segregated from pallets on interstate travel.

AirRoad also offers a free in-house warranty where in an unlikely event of damage the customers are compensated by AirRoad directly.

The company measures its performance by the metric delivery in full, on time (DIFOT) and undamaged each month and rates in excess of 97 per cent for the majority of clients.

"A transit warranty is more than an insurance from our side because it actually costs us money," Thorpe says.

"If we have to keep paying out money for damages or losses, we then go back and focus on why, what was lost and what was broken – there’s a full investigation.

"That’s why we have so many cameras in the security area, because it’s more than looking out for problems; we try to do the right thing all the way through.

"Mistakes happen, we know that, but when you’ve got so many cameras and with our scanning we can trace where it happened or where we must have misdelivered, and so we get on top of that straight away."

All eyes on service

AirRoad’s track and trace system monitors every item with barcode scanning at major points in the supply chain – from pick up to final delivery, which is connected to its depot surveillance system.

All of its vehicles are fitted with satellite tracking and when goods are at AirRoad’s lock-down sites they are protected with electronic security monitoring 24/7, live CCTV, on-site guards and back to base alarm systems.

AirRoad has spent millions of dollars on security and technology as "delivery in full, on time and undamaged" is at the heart of its service.

"We monitor our performance to ensure that we are providing the most efficient service possible and to validate the service commitment that we make to each of our clients," Thorpe says.

"From day one, that was one of the first things we did.                                    

"For a private company to go into the market place and be something different, we went out there and started off with high value freight. We’ve spent millions on research and development."

With 25 in-house IT experts, AirRoad runs its own freight management system, called AFT, which it constantly keeps improving.

"We look at doing things better and technology is a big one at the moment; we are spending a lot of money on technology and helping our customers track their freight online," Thorpe says.

"Technology is an endless bucket. With 15 programmers, they’re always coming up with new ideas – we now run tracking in all the trucks which the state managers download for vehicles in each state."

AirRoad also offers an online supply chain toolbox where customers monitor their consignments, run track and trace, print labels and much more.

Strategically located

AirRoad has added 18 new Komatsu forklifts to its Sydney fleet to improve freight handling. It had also introduced 12 similar forklifts at its Melbourne depot two years ago which are equipped with sensors that stop the machine in case of a sudden impact.

Such technology has made considerable difference in eliminating product damage, General Manager Dzenard Gorovic says.

"If a driver slams into a pallet the forklift automatically turns off," Gorovic says.

"A supervisor then has to come and start it. Staff know that if you handle a pallet too harshly we will know about it and we’ll address it. And if there’s a continuous problem we’ll look at that person and say you’re too rough.

"It’s about monitoring your people and we really can have a look and see what the machine is doing."

The company has added a new 3PL warehouse at Pemulwuy in Sydney last November. The custom-built 100,000 cbm warehouse is set to accommodate growing volumes and is strategically located with direct access to the M4 and M7 motorways.

It also has a temperature-controlled storage area that can hold approximately 1,400 pallets and features a vertical carousel storage system that has been installed to enable safe pick and pack operations.

Operations staff on site supported by new mono-mast forklifts.

AirRoad has another two warehouses in Melbourne and Brisbane that are located on the same site as its depots due to no pick-up cost.

"It gives us an advantage," Thorpe explains.

"If your warehouse is not on the same site they’ve got to have that freight ready by a certain cut-off time so the driver can pick it up and bring it back to the transport. We can still pick it up by 7pm if we needed to, and it makes a huge difference."

New gear

With a mix of Kenworth and Volvo trucks, AirRoad has been shifting towards Volvo lately, selecting the FH series of prime movers for its Sydney to Brisbane and Sydney to Perth services due to their maximum comfort.

"They seem to have a lot more safety features and give drivers more comfort," Thorpe says.

"Our commitment is to provide quality, safety and market leading service standards.

"This type of investment aligns to our core principle of delivering certainty to our clients and ensuring that they can rely on timely, secure and undamaged freight arrival."

The FH series also includes stretch brakes for reducing any hazardous jack-knife effects, adaptive cruise control, collision warning with emergency braking, driver alert support when rest periods or breaks are due and lane changing support to check blind spots.

AirRoad operations also involve around 450 subcontractors.

"We always use subcontractors because we believe that, as small business owners, they take better care of the goods and we think there’s better value in money," Thorpe adds.

"At the same time, we purchase vehicles and equipment that are required for non-routine deliveries."

The company updates its fleet every four to five years and the subcontractors run their trucks to the latest Euro 5 engines.

It has doubled its size over the last eight years due to an increase in the number of high quality clients, Thorpe says.

"Our service offering continues to attract a lot of attention from clients that value service over cheap price and we have an excellent reputation in the market for delivering on time."

AirRoad prides itself of its customer relations, paying close attention to client’s needs.

"Because we don’t have thousands of clients, each account manager would have about 25 clients who they have monthly meetings with, so we work closely with them," Thorpe says.

"Once you start getting thousands or ten thousand clients you just can’t work with them. That’s the niche we’re in and that’s the way we look at business.

"It’s more than just money, it’s the service we offer and we have to be aware of what they want.

"We don’t just pick up freight and deliver it; we sit together with our clients and work with them."

Humble beginnings

Thorpe was running his own transport business, M&M Thorpe, when he joined AirRoad in 1991, two years after the company was established by Tim Paine.

With 18 B-doubles to his name, Thorpe’s business was then bought by AirRoad and Thorpe became a full-time employee, climbing up the ladder to his current positon.

The company is controlled and managed by long-term staff, with long-term managers controlling 50 per cent of the company’s shares.

Whilst the company has grown significantly over that time, it has never tried to be the biggest, he claims.

"We’ve always try to give our clients the best service possible," he says.

AirRoad carries heavy and sensitive items, and has diversified from carrying film and photography equipment in the early days.

"We still carry quite a few computers but, if you go back 10 to 15 years ago, computers were really expensive and that’s where the security within AirRoad came from.

"What we’ve found is that if you focus too much on one industry there’s a slight risk attached and so we try and broaden as much as we can," he adds.

"As long as there’s a need for express freight and it fits in our trucks, we can handle it."

The company has stayed versatile by keeping to a small client base and developing with customers’ needs.

"We’re growing with the existing clients; as they grow we grow with them."

What sets the company apart is its care and strong relationship with customers, he adds.

"Companies that have gone under have probably tried to grow too quickly too soon and they don’t look after their clients all the way," Thorpe says.

"At the end of the day we’re all taking freight from all around Australia but the only thing we can offer is a better service – as long as we keep doing that I know we’ll keep our clients."

Most valuable assets

Without its staff, AirRoad wouldn’t exist, so the management makes a point of valuing its staff.

Its staff insurance policy provides paid sick leave for however long an employee is away to ensure those highly sought-after come back.

"If someone’s sick we look after them regardless because they’ll always come back and appreciate what we do for them," Thorpe says.

"I think that’s what makes us stand out from the others because they don’t want to leave."

"If you’re in a role and you’re looking to move up you’ve got to be very good at what you do because no one is leaving," Gorovic says.

"We don’t advertise for people and people don’t leave AirRoad. We have some line haul drivers who have been here for over 20 years."

Former branch manager Wendy Clarke from Western Australia was named Transport Woman of the Year in 2010.

AirRoad employs several women in senior management positions including its board of directors as well as operations and drivers.

"Our employment policy looks at filling the role based on merit and we are proud to be an equal employment opportunity provider," Thorpe says.

The company last year participated in a charity skydive with 16 of its members leaping from nearly 5,000 metres for Project Futures’ ‘Toss the Boss’, raising $25,000 to stop human trafficking. 

Read the full feature in this month's ATN.


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